Editorial: Anti-cannabis NIMBYs should be challenged

The question of whether or not cannabis products should be banned from the legal marketplace in Massachusetts was decided in 2016 when we— the voters— approved Question 4 by a clear margin, 53-46 percent. In Boston, the margin was even greater: city residents voted 62-37 in favor of legalization.

Still, the battle to block dispensaries continues to be waged in piecemeal fashion at civic association meetings and on Zoom calls across the state— and right here in Dorchester.

As we report this week, one proposal that has just surfaced in Adams Corner has generated dramatically different responses from two adjacent civic groups in recent weeks. The proposal— made by CAN Stores, Inc.— calls for the company to lease space in a commercial building at 540 Gallivan Blvd. The 3,000-square-foot retail store would share space with Supreme Liquors, Boston Sports Club, and College Hype, among other small businesses. They would operate daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., if they win approval from the city of Boston.

The group’s first formal hearing came two weeks ago when Cedar Grove Civic convened online to hear from CAN Store’s principal, Robert DiFazio, a veteran who pledged to hire people from the neighborhood, provide a security presence, and invest in causes important to the neighborhood, such as youth sports.

His pitch was well-received by civic members, who seemed to grasp that a well-operated cannabis store would be a welcome addition. Some wanted assurances about parking and traffic concerns, legitimate issues in a business district that has had trouble over the years on both fronts.

Last week, however, DiFazio and his team got a big dose of “not in our backyard” from a few dozen neighbors who assembled in the parking lot of a union hall on Minot Street for the monthly Ashmont-Adams Neighborhood Association meeting. One-by-one, neighbors spoke out against DiFazio’s proposal with arguments centered on re-litigating the health and morality of legalized marijuana use.

One person stood to say: “This is one of the last real neighborhoods left in the city.” Another challenged DiFazio, apparently, for having had the misfortune of not growing up in Dorchester: “You didn’t grow up here, you grew up in Haverhill. This is a different neighborhood.”

Different? What is that supposed to mean?

As another neighbor at the meeting acknowledged, Adams Village is home to a popular liquor store and five different licensed bars and restaurants where a busy trade in alcohol is a point of pride for many, although some might argue that the abuse of alcohol and related crimes are a far more prevalent danger.

The knee-jerk NIMBYism afoot at the Ashmont-Adams meeting carried shades of earlier iterations of opposition in and around Adams Village that we covered in the 1990s. Hard-fought campaigns were waged in those days to block a more modern McDonald’s from being built on the site that now houses Lucy’s— one of the aforementioned licensed establishments. The current McDonald’s on Gallivan has no drive-thru lane as a result of those pitched battles that played out through the Cedar Grove Civic, which met in the basement of St. Brendan’s Church back then.

In another notorious case, a small group of neighbors in the mid-1990s sought to block a video rental franchise from opening on the site of the abandoned Joseph’s Catering building at the corner of Gallivan and Granite Avenue. The opponents went so far as to circulate an anonymous flyer that falsely accused the business of trafficking in porno flicks.

In that instance, thankfully, good and well-reasoned people stood up to the church-basement bullies and put a stop to their propaganda. The video store project went forward, the neighborhood razed a longtime eyesore, and the city realized much needed tax revenue and jobs.

Reasonable people, of course, can disagree about the suitability of specific proposals in their community. But the tone of this one – e.g., “This is one of the only real neighborhoods left”—carries a stink of ignorance and bigotry that shouldn’t be in the mix in 2020 Dorchester. We hope that this proposal, and others like it, get the fair hearings they deserve in front of the city and state’s proper cannabis control boards.